Yoga is an ancient philosophy that is the practice of mind and body practice from 5,000-years. Various styles of yoga combine physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation.
In more recent years, it has become popular as a form of physical exercise based upon poses that promote improved control of the mind and body and enhance well-being.
There are several different types of yoga and many disciplines within the practice. This article explores the history, philosophy, and various branches of yoga.
What is yoga?
In the modern world, the South Asian art of yoga has expanded to all corners of the globe. While it is now a popular form of exercise and meditation, this has not always been the case.
There is no written record of the inventor of yoga. Male yoga practitioners are known as yogis, and female yoga practitioners are called yoginis. Both practiced and taught yoga long before any written account of yoga came into existence.
Over the next five millennia, yogis passed the discipline down to their students, and many different schools of yoga developed as the practice expanded its global reach and popularity.
The “Yoga Sutra,” a 2,000-year-old treatise on yogic philosophy by the Indian sage Patanjali, is a guidebook on how to master the mind, control emotions, and grow spiritually.
Yoga is well known for its postures and poses, but they were not a key part of original yoga traditions in India. Fitness was not a primary goal. Practitioners and followers of yogic tradition focused instead on other practices, such as expanding spiritual energy using breathing methods and mental focus.
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The tradition began to gain popularity in the West at the end of the 19th century. An explosion of interest in postural yoga occurred in the 1920s and 1930s, first in India and later in the West.
Modern yoga has evolved with a focus on exercise, strength, flexibility, and breathing. It can help boost physical and mental well-being.
There are many styles of yoga, and no style is more authentic or superior to another. The key is to choose a class appropriate for your fitness level.
Types and styles of yoga may include:
This type of yoga uses ancient yoga teachings. However, it became popular during the 1970s. Ashtanga applies six established sequences of postures that rapidly link every movement to breathe.
Also known as “hot” yoga, Bikram occurs in artificially heated rooms at temperatures of nearly 105 degrees and 40 percent humidity. That contains 26 poses.
This is a generic term for any type of yoga that teaches physical postures. “Hatha” classes usually serve as a gentle introduction to the basic yoga postures.
This type focuses on finding the correct alignment in each pose using a range of props, such as blocks, blankets, straps, chairs, and bolsters.
Jivamukti means “liberation while living.” This type emerged in 1984 and incorporates spiritual teachings and practices that focus on the fast-paced flow between poses rather than the poses themselves.
This focus is called vinyasa. Each class has a theme, which is explored through yoga scripture, chanting, meditation, asana, pranayama, and music. Jivamukti yoga can be physically intense.
This type teaches practitioners to know, accept, and learn from the body. A student of Kripalu learns to find their own level of practice by looking inward. The classes usually begin with breathing exercises and gentle stretches, followed by a series of individual poses and final relaxation.
Kundalini means “coiled, like a snake.” Kundalini yoga is a system of meditation that aims to release pent-up energy.
A class typically begins with chanting and ends with singing. In between, it features asana, pranayama, and meditation customized to create a specific outcome.
In the late 1980s, practitioners developed this active and athletic type of yoga, based on the traditional ashtanga system.
This is a system based on a five-point philosophy. This philosophy maintains that proper breathing, relaxation, diet, exercise, and positive thinking work together to form a healthy yogic lifestyle. Typically uses the same 12 basic asanas, bookended by sun salutations and savasana poses.
Viniyoga can adapt to any person, regardless of physical ability. Viniyoga teachers require in-depth training and tend to be experts on anatomy and yoga therapy.
This is a quiet, meditative yoga practice, also called Taoist yoga. Yin yoga allows the release of tension in key joints, including:
- the ankles
- the whole back
Yin poses are passive, meaning that gravity shoulders most of the force and effort.
Prenatal yoga uses postures that practitioners have designed for people who are pregnant. It can support people in getting back into shape after pregnancy as well as supporting health during pregnancy.
This is a relaxing method of yoga. A person spends a restorative yoga class in four or five simple poses, using props like blankets and bolsters to sink into deep relaxation without exerting any effort in holding the pose.